You just got home from the Marine Corps recruiting office, and your ship date for boot camp is 100 days out – there’s only one problem. You can only do 3 dead hang pull ups. Or your body fat percentage is borderline unauthorized for your height. Or you are barely clearing 24 minutes on your 3 mile run. Can’t do 100 crunches? You get the point. Marine Corps recruits have a higher standard than the other service branches: they all understand that the title of Marine is earned, and never – and I mean never – given. If you can’t perform the bare minimum physical fitness – or academic, character, etc – standards, then you’ll get rolled into the next class. If you keep the poor performance going, then the Army would love to have you. So what’s the easiest way then to prepare for three months of physical and mental hell? The answer will surprise you.
Success Starts With Discipline, and It Begins Yesterday
There is no easy way to prepare; you simply are going to have to put in the work. But come to think of it, that’s why we all want to become Marines, is it not? We take pride in operating at higher standards, whether it be the pull-up bar out on patrol in Afghanistan; if you don’t like the thought of putting in extra time to get yourself to those standards, then I repeat, there are four other branches who would love to have you.
Before I jump into the the physical preparation guide, I want to preface this post with two things: my background, as well as my philosophy on physical discipline. First off, for those of you who are new to SQ and haven’t read my other Marine Corps guides and posts, I am a former Captain in the Marine Corps with a final PFT of 299 (I always landed 300’s on the CFTs), having been a scout sniper platoon commander, and an embedded infantry advisor with the Afghan National Army while in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Am I an expert? Absolutely not. Quite frankly, having only served four years – which I loved, and often miss – there are plenty of books, films, and former Marines with many more years of service than I, so take this guide as a piece to everything you’re learning about the Marine Corps as you prepare for our legendary boot camp. Second, my philosophy to physical fitness is simple: there is a bare minimum, and then there is the perfect score. I would highly recommend that you aim for nothing shy of perfection in everything that you do, starting yesterday: that is what Marines do, and the results – from PFT and cutting scores, to promotions and flat-out cool career opportunities – will speak for themselves. If you’re worried about doing five pull ups, then your mindset is completely wrong: you shouldn’t be satisfied until you can rip off 20 dead hang pull ups without taking a rest break. Speaking of pull-ups …
The Easiest Way to Do 20 Pull-Ups
Their is no more bad ass work out than the dead-hang pull-up; dead lifts, overhead squats – yeah, those are cool, and quite effective at improving overall physical strength, but put a man or a woman on a pull up bar and you’ll really get to see what they are made of. The goal is 20, and you need to get there – and stay there – as quickly as humanly possible. There are countless pull-up programs available for free on the Interweb – feel free to Google, as I’m not going to cover them – but in the end it all boils down to one key thing: frequency.
If you’ve got $20 bucks, head on over to your local CVS or Walgreens and buy one of those body gym pull-up bars that hang over your door frame – that’s really all you need. Once you put it together, think tactically and hang the bar in the doorway you go through the most each day, because from this day forward, you will do a max pull-up set each and every time you walk through that door – that’s the rule. It’s easy to remember, and a great way to get in a ton of reps, because reps (and honest reps, don’t cheat yourself – it won’t do you any good) are what you need. The end state you are looking for is to be able to do at least 100 dead-hang pull ups per week as part of one single workout (whether it takes you 15 minutes or 60); if you can accomplish that, then you are danger close to repping 20 pull ups and grabbing all those precious PFT points. Are there ways to get there quicker? Of course there are: losing weight, eating better, and incorporating upper body lifting (arms, shoulders and back; great workout = 500 push ups in a single session, do at least once per week with 100 pull ups) will speed up the process considerably. Looking for motivation? Check out this article: this LtCol has notched 30-straight years of perfect PFT scores.
Pull-ups are not hard to do. I remember being at a point before I undertook the tips I relayed to you above, being stuck at about 18-20 pull-ups, and didn’t think anything over 20 was really that attainable. Wow was this guy wrong: at my peak I maxed out at 29 dead-hang pull-ups, weighing 180 pounds. If I can do it ladies and gents, so can you.
100 Crunches = Easy Points
Remember what I said about frequency? That same approach comes into play with 100 crunches – if you need to get 100 crunches in two minutes for a perfect score, then you should be doing 5x that many each and every week. It really is that simple. Just like the pull-ups, shedding those excess pounds, eating and sleeping well will also help substantially in your crunches, but it ultimately just boils down to discipline and frequency. Do 100 crunches right as you jump out of bed five times per week, then do the same before you hit the rack at night. If you’re in the gym, mix in some weighted, decline sit-ups, and even start doing some planks to strengthen your core even faster. Once again, there’s no easy way out, but that’s what you signed up for!
Anyone Can Be a Rabbit
I have always considered myself to be a pretty good runner, having played soccer and basketball throughout my junior high, high school and college (intramurals) tenure. My very first PFT after starting my OCS prep came in at 20 minutes and 30 seconds for 3 miles, but my goal was 18 minutes. I have to give credit to my dad for pointing me in the right direction; my work out plan for the 3 mile PFT run was distance-oriented – I thought more miles each week would help me gain faster. I was dead wrong. He mentioned to me one day that speed work – interval sprints and hill sprints – would help me improve my times faster. He was dead right. After getting that advice my max distance runs came down to 5 miles, and the bulk of my workouts focused on interval sprinting (jogging for a quarter mile, then sprinting for as long as I can, cooling down to a jog, then sprinting for as long as I can, and repeating until I get 1 mile total complete, then two weeks later doing it for 2 miles, so on and so forth) and hill sprints. If you don’t live near hills, find one. Seriously. I cannot stress to you the critical importance of sprinting (increases your VO2 max), and if you can incorporate hills into that, Chesty will be smiling upon you. The coolest feeling in the world (one of them) is that first PFT you do after a few weeks and/or months of doing sprint-work: it will feel like you are jogging, but you are actually flying like Usain Bolt.
Anyone can be a rabbit, all you have to have is discipline.
In the end, there really is no easy way to prepare for the physical aspect of Marine Corps boot camp – you just have to put in the time, the sweat, and the energy if you want to not only earn the title of Marine, but become Honor Grad. Always aim for the top spot, always strive to the fastest, strongest bastard around, whether you’re on the PFT course or on the dusty streets of Helmand Province. You’ve got 100 days, so in my opinion, you have zero excuses.
Best of luck to you in your preparation Recruits, and hit me up in the comments below if you ever have any questions! Semper Fidelis, and thanks for stopping by SQ.